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Richard Rawlings’ OnTheMarket open letter keeps portal rivalry on the boil

Fierce debate continues over an open letter sent by a top consultant to OnTheMarket at the end of last week, accusing it of leading to a reduction in the number of sales this year.

On Friday Richard Rawlings - an agency marketing expert with 30 years experience and regarded by many as Britain’s foremost agency trainer - wrote to OTM chief executive Ian Springett. The letter was penned jointly with Rawling’s business partner, Bradley Payne.

The core of Rawlings’ argument in the letter, reproduced in full here, is that there is little consumer awareness of OTM. Without that there is no knowledge amongst would-be buyers that properties are no longer generally duplicated across Rightmove and Zoopla.


“Buyers are simply not being exposed to the same number of properties that they would have seen pre-OTM” claims Rawlings.

He goes on to say: “This has led, not only to a decline in transactions, but also to a decline in new instructions because many people are not bringing their house to market (or are withdrawing it) simply because they do not believe they will find anywhere to buy. This has led to a vicious circle verging on a confidence crisis. And confidence is the one thing on which property markets thrive.”

Estate Agent Today asked on Friday if OnTheMarket had any comment on the open letter; any response will appear here.

But there was a major debate on the issue on EAT over the weekend, with some contributors pouring derision on the claim. 

One agent wrote: “In 2007 transaction volumes were 60% higher than today. I then bought my cat. This distracted my attention from buying a house and the butterfly effect came into play. And look at the proof. Volumes are down. Evidence that it's the cats fault...”

Another wrote: “I used to enjoy listening to Richard as I thought he had a pretty good balanced view of the industry ... Pretty much every agent is on RM and pretty much every mover looks on RM, to blame OTM for lack of stock is ridiculous!”

A third critic commented: “The change to stamp duty at the end of last year, agents over valuing to win stock, buyers anticipating a slowdown in the market, possible interest rate increases, the general election...any of these are plausible reasons for a reduction in transaction levels and a lot more likely then not finding every available property through the internet a newspaper or the high street.”

Others regarded Rawlings’ analysys as sound. “The shame is that we all want an industry owned portal, and because of the divisive approach that the Agents Mutual board and team have followed, it is looking increasingly likely that this project will fail” said one.

Another commented: “As it is a fact that seeing stock leads to stock as well as sales, this analysis is valid. The whole industry has therefore suffered for the folly and poor judgement of the OTM venture.”

Richard Rawlings himself joined in the debate, defending his analysis. “I am not suggesting that people not using OTM is the issue - it's not. In fact OTM visitor numbers reported at between 2% and 5% of the market are negligible. Listing migration is not! The point is that buyers (especially those important speculative ones) who used to assume that they could access most properties using EITHER Rightmove OR Zoopla, now have to use BOTH - even without visiting OTM” he said.

The full text of Rawlings’ letter and the weekend debate can be found here.

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    I think the analysis is sound but it's one of a number of factors, some of which are also mentioned . Speculative buyer checks zoopla to find that his dream home isn't on added to stamp duty etc etc

  • ken hume

    I like Richard and think he is a great agency trainer and I find the analysis interesting but either a little naive at best or or very biased at worst. His view suggests that buyers will not check the whole of the market and think that there are only two places to look. In my experience buyers are smarter than this. They will scan all of the portals, check with all local agents and more. It seems to me that buyers are becoming more and more sophisticated and diligent in their approach to a home search. On many occasions we will assist with the search for the less able or knowledgeable buyer. We will check out the areas that they wish to move in every way that we can. It may well be that this area of our business adds more value and this can only be a good thing for keen independents like ourselves looking to add value by going the extra mile. To suggest that a new competitor is spoiling the market seems to me to be saying that they have made a powerful impact. By the way i am currently with Zoopla and RM, not yet with OTM before you all scream OTM advocate!

    Jon  Tarrey

    Fair points. But I find it hard to believe that the average buyer on the street is as aware of OTM as they are off Rightmove and Zoopla. I think people outside the property industry would be hard pushed to name another portal after the big two and maybe PrimeLocation. Which is Richard's main point, that consumer awareness is not where it should be and probably never will. RM and Zoopla have become so synonymous with searching for a home, whether it's to buy or rent. That is going to take years to change, if it ever does happen. Established brands take some shifting.

    Richard Rawlings

    Thanks Ken. I appreciate your words. The research suggests that 80% of buyers only use one portal! This will be especially true for those important speculative buyers who will only put their house on the market if they are satisfied they will be able to find something to move to. If they are mostly only looking on their favourite portal, whichever that might be, but listings are less frequently duplicated than before, then by default they will not have been exposed to as much stock as pre-OTM. Of course, serious buyers (the remaining 20% of the market??) will leave no stone unturned. You have however raised an important point that a good agent will actually help buyers discover areas of compromise by offering them properties that they might never have discovered if left to their own devices. And that's the real value of a good agent!

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    If this where the case Ken, how would explain the OTM traffic numbers ? It's has a quarter of the stock yet less than 10% of the Zoopla visitor figures and less than 5% of Rightmoves. The real world data suggests that buyers know where to look and that's Righnkve and Zoolpla. If a new car website opened tomorrow you'd still look on Autotrader and maybe EBay dependant on the car. Your belief is that this is whole of market ...

  • Jon  Tarrey

    To add to the points above, I've seen a fair few agencies (especially in London) with the OTM branding on the front of their offices. But this, and the expensive ads, still don't seem to be doing the trick when it comes to brand awareness. When I see the OTM logo, I recognise it immediately, but that's because I have knowledge of the property industry and the main debates currently raging through it. Joe Public, not so much. If I ask my friends and family about OTM, they look at me with questioning faces. "Who?" is the general response.

    I'd never get that if I was talking about RM and Zoopla. That's the big difference. That's not necessarily OTM's main goal, to be as instantly recognisable as the big two, but I'm a little bit confused as to what their aims actually are. It seems to change week by week, depending on how Springett is feeling.

  • Rob  Davies

    Terrible few weeks for nobody's favourite portal. Their PR team must be doing overtime at the moment, trying to spin all these negative news stories into something more positive. Maybe they'll change their stance on the one other portal rule when things start to get really bad. They may even stop excluding online agents. Who knows?


    The reduction in stock isn't due to one single factor - the number of new genuine visitors to new homes developments has also fallen in many locations so the challenge seems to be across the industry. the priority should be what can be done about it and how agents etc react to the current environment. Encouraging motivated and some speculative sellers is key and so is educating them.

    Richard Rawlings

    Absolutely David- there are many factors very few of which we as agents can actually influence. But removing the one portal rule IS one of them. If anyone knows any others then it would be great if they could share it.

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    From a buyers perspective, just one portal with all the property listed would be just perfect!

    Rightmove can organise this for all the agents.

  • ken hume

    What I do find frustrating is that OTM are clearly struggling with PR.
    For a large portal this is a huge mistake as the negative press is pushing hard, find your voice Mr Springett, the neutrals like me need to hear this
    If they had a better PR department surely it would be them commenting on threads like this and I find it confusing that there is no comment from them


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